Health alert in Spain: Flour contaminated by fungus that can cause hallucinations, convulsions, pain, and cyanosis

Health alert in Spain: Flour contaminated by fungus that can cause hallucinations, convulsions, pain, and cyanosis

Image of a man using flour to prepare dough. Credit: KucherAV/

The Spanish Food Safety and Nutrition Agency, Aesan, has issued an alert for flour contaminated by a fungus that can cause hallucinations, convulsions, pain, and cyanosis.

Aesan, the Spanish Food Safety and Nutrition Agency, has alerted the Autonomous Communities to withdraw a brand of wholemeal rye flour from the market due to fungal contamination.

According to a statement released by the department of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, the alert was launched by the health authorities of Catalonia when they discovered the presence of ergot alkaloids in this foodstuff.

The affected product is batch 21-005 of wholemeal rye flour of the Biogra brand, whose best-before date is 30/05/2023. This food is marketed in 500-gram plastic bags.

This wholemeal flour has been distributed in the autonomous communities of Valencia, Castilla-La Mancha, the Balearic Islands, Galicia, Andalucia, the Canary Islands, Castilla y Leon, Madrid, La Rioja, the Basque Country, and Catalonia.

It may also have been sold in other regions of Spain though. Aesan recommended that people who purchased the product and have it at home should refrain from consuming it.

In addition, the competent authorities of the Autonomous Communities have been asked – through the Coordinated System for the Rapid Exchange of Information (SCIRI) – to verify the withdrawal of the affected products from the marketing channels.

Ergot alkaloids, known as ergot alkaloids (AEs), are produced by different fungi of the orders Hypocreales and Eurotiales. Within the former, ‘claviceps purpurea‘ is the most widespread fungus in Europe. It infects grains of rye, wheat, barley, millet, and oats, among other cereals. Its consumption causes ergotism, a rare cause of arterial insufficiency.

Symptoms consistent with having consumed a product contaminated with ergot alkaloids include hallucinations, convulsions, numbness, tingling, pain, cyanosis, absence of pulse, and sudden intense coldness in the extremities. These may be followed by acute burning and abdominal pain.

Its effects can lead to tissue necrosis and gangrene, mainly in the extremities. In case of developing any of these symptoms, it is recommended to visit a health centre. Currently, ergotism is only anecdotal, and isolated cases are caused by chronic consumption of ergotamine-containing drugs.

The effects of ergot alkaloids have been known since time immemorial. In fact, the contamination of rye and other grains by the fungus ‘claviceps purpurea’, or ergot, was first recorded on an Assyrian clay tablet in 600 BC. Also, in the Middle Ages, there were several severe epidemics known as ‘St Anthony’s fire’ due to the consumption of cereals, flour, or bread contaminated with this fungus.

According to Francisco S. Lozano Sanchez, from the Department of Angiology and Vascular Surgery, at the Complejo Asistencial Universitario de Salamanca (CAUSA), the first epidemic of this type in Europe was recorded in 857, in Germany’s Rhine Valley.

In this study, he explained that during the plague people lost their limbs before they died. From then on, this disease became known as the sacred fire. This was termed by combining ‘fire’ due to ‘the burning sensation of the limbs when suffering gangrenous ergotism’ and ‘sacred’ because it was thought to be a ‘divine punishment’, as reported by


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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at